created by Johnny Giles
In a time when east London is characterised as nothing more than coffee shops and pop up clubs, John Giles writes about the people of the east he knows, through the letters they have sent.
Prior to sitting my finals in a draughty and faceless sports hall at Durham University, I was invited to London - a place I thought I knew well - to be interviewed by a Member of Parliament whose constituency lies in the East End. I say I knew London well, but in all honesty, I didn't – I knew where Buckingham Palace was, I knew where Stamford Bridge was and I knew where the Madame Tussauds was too.
Being the diligent interviewee that I was, I researched the constituency my prospective MP represented. It became apparent very quickly that my knowledge of London was very much restricted to zones 1 and 2. Despite my ignorance of what lay outside central London, I was offered the post of Parliamentary Assistant for the aforementioned MP. I have remained with that MP for six years. I count myself as extremely fortunate to help him in his work representing a growing, vibrant and dynamic area of the capital.
Politics works at its best on a local level. Helping those who need it, those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in debt, unable to take up employment or being made homeless. This is the blunt of end of politics and is far removed from the ornate and archaic world of Parliament. It is where MPs, and their staff, are most needed.
Some areas have feel the impact of government policies - well-intentioned or not - more acutely than others, and it is here that east London continually faces its greatest challenges. Immigration restrictions have caused a lot of strife and, in some cases, broken families up. Reforms to the benefits system have forced many individuals away from areas they have grown up in and the shortage of affordable housing east of the City of Westminster is arguably greater than anywhere else in the country. The work can be tough and gruelling, but highly rewarding, if not entertaining. I will always recall the gentleman who turned up at an advice surgery asking for Viagra. Why did he think his MP could give out Viagra, I asked? “Well, he sorted out my housing problem,” the gentleman said. “Can’t he solve this problem too?” He was sent on his way with a list of local GPs for him to go and register with.
Such humour is commonplace in some of the toughest areas of the East End. I have always thought this strange given the difficulties many face. Often I will be thinking about where I’ll be meeting my friends later for a night out or wondering how on earth I will get to Twickenham at the weekend with engineering works taking place on the District Line. But then someone sits in front of me and tells me about their problems, some involving torture, homelessness and violence. Yet, they look around at the community – a diverse, welcoming community – and can still, time and time again, look to the positives with an enduring faith that life will get better.
And for many life does get better. East London welcomed the world just two years ago for the Olympic Games, which has driven investment in the area. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park recently re-opened with nearly 3,000 homes and 27 acres of parkland to boot.
I’m not an east Londoner. I’m not from there and I don’t live there now. However, its people, its places and its stories are remarkable. If you were like me, and unfamiliar with anything further than curry houses on Brick Lane, then go and explore what east London, and its people have to offer.
Jonny Giles is a Senior Parliamenary Assistant to an east London MP